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Development Workshop: Martin Ravallion

Friday, October 22, 2021 at 11:30am to 12:30pm

Virtual Event

Martin Ravallion, Georgetown University

Presentation:  Income Inequality & Polarization in China Since 1981

Fleshing Out the Olive? On Income Polarization in China

Abstract: In a rare example of an explicit national goal for income distribution besides reducing poverty, China’s leadership has recently committed to expanding the middle-income share—moving to a less polarized “olive-shaped” distribution. Recognizing the potential trade-offs, the paper asks whether China’s experience indicates that income-polarization was a by-product of past economic progress, including poverty reduction. The paper does not find robust time-series evidence of polarizing effects alongside either economic growth or population urbanization (including among those below the national median). There was strong co-movement between polarization and inequality. Larger urban-rural gaps in mean incomes are strongly polarizing in China.

Is that Really a Kuznets Curve? Turning Points for income Inequality in China

Abstract: The path of income inequality in post-reform China has been widely interpreted as “China’s Kuznets curve.” We show that the Kuznets growth model of structural transformation in a dual economy, alongside population urbanization, has little explanatory power for our new series of inequality measures back to 1981. Our simulations tracking the partial “Kuznets derivative” of inequality with respect to urban population share yield virtually no Kuznets curve. More plausible explanations for the inequality turning points relate to determinants of the gap between urban and rural mean incomes, including multiple agrarian policy reforms. Our findings warn against any presumption that the Kuznets process will assure that China has passed its time of rising inequality. More generally, our findings cast doubt on past arguments that economic growth through structural transformation in poor countries is necessarily inequality increasing, or that a turning point will eventually be reached after which that growth will be inequality decreasing.

Dial-In Information

If you are interested participating in this seminar, please email Ulrike Kroeller at for Zoom information.

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Event Type

Seminar, Class/ Workshop




economics, EconSeminar, EconDevelop

Contact E-Mail

Contact Name

Ulrike Kroeller

Contact Phone



Martin Ravallion

Speaker Affiliation

Georgetown University

Open To

Cornell Economics Commnity (List Service Mambers)